SUNDAY 23rd January
Soft light peeked around the edges of the curtains as I was enjoying the last of the late sleep-ins I had gotten so used to over the summer. Well not so much sleep-ins more that I could go back to bed after my morning surf training.
My phone beeped that she had a message. “Go away I’m all snuggly,” I moaned, pulling the sheets over my head. The phone beeped again and I knew it wouldn’t stop until I either read the message or threw it across the room, but since I was already paying off two broken phones I decided I’d better check the message.
It was from Storm, apparently Kai hadn’t shown up for band practice again and now I had to get out of my comfy bed and go track him down.
But Storm had ended the message with a whole bunch of little love hearts so I couldn’t say no.
I dragged myself sleepily out of bed and stumbled to my wardrobe, throwing off my nice warm pajamas as I went.
Urgh, what to wear?
About an hour later I was walking along the beachfront promenade in my search for Kai and thinking that if I had to be out of bed I’d rather be in the water, the waves looked really good, better than they had been at six o’clock.
I really had no idea where Kai could be and calling him was useless since he never spoke but I remembered that the cheerleaders were practicing for the new school year down at the Lagoon Amphitheater (flyers for the annoying bubbleheads were posted all over town) and figured there was a good chance Kai would be hanging around down there watching all the skimpily dressed girls, probably with his best friend Brad.
However when I arrived at the amphitheater it was deserted.
“Well this isn’t shiny,” I said to myself.
I kept walking along the promenade in the direction of the lagoon, as I was passing by the change rooms I heard an irritating giggling coming from inside.
I seriously believe you could lose brain cells just hearing their idiotic yammering.
I continued past the small brick building, passing a large amount of bushy plants that lined the back wall I thought I heard a branch snap.
But Kai couldn’t be that big a perve could he? I thought before I remembered that Brad was probably with and Brad was that big a perve.
Peering into the shadows I crept along the edge of the bushes looking for any sign of the boys. There was another cracking branch and a tall blonde boy fell to the ground.
“Ow,” the boy said quietly as his head thudded off the hard earth.
“Morning Bradley,” I said cheerfully.
“Ow,” Brad said again as he twisted around in the undergrowth, then casually greeted me, “Oh hey Harlz.”
I smiled, shaking her head in disbelief, “You know you’re never going to get a girlfriend if you keep acting like that.”
“Yeah I know,” Brad admitted sheepishly. Besides the whole perve thing Brad wasn’t a bad guy, he always treated his crushes really nice but things just never worked out because he was kind of immature.
I remembered why I was there in the first place
“Is Kai in there with you?” I asked.
“Uh, nope,” Brad lied, unconvincingly, as he crawled out from under the bushes. He stood up dusting himself off and added, “Haven’t seen him all day.”
“Oh really?” I asked, reaching down to grab a thick dead branch off the ground.
Holding his hands up in defence Brad backed away from me, “Whoa hold on.”
“Relax, it’s shiny,” I said with a small smile before crouching down and prodding the branch into the leafy shadows. “Brad stop staring at my butt,” I warned as I probed inside the bushes.
A strangled yelp preceded another body thudding to the ground.
Muttering a silent string of profanities, a short Asian boy with shocking orange-dyed hair pushed his way out of the undergrowth.
“Kai, Storm is looking for you,” I said.
Kai smiled and gestured that I should have called him.
“Very clever,” I said.
Kai grinned, indicating to Brad that they should get going.
As the two boys started to walk away I grabbed the back of their shirts, “Not so fast Silent Bob.”
In Seacliffe there was only one place worth hanging out if you were under 18 and that was The Wave Cafe, a once old-fashioned milk bar now decorated with an eclectic mix of surf and rock memorabilia with a small stage at the back where local bands (including Storm’s and Kai’s band Dark Sky) performed on Friday and Saturday nights.
At one of the booth tables along the side wall Eric sat with his twin sister Cara, a tall girl with long brown hair and the same dark-blue eyes as her brother, and my best friend since forever Nolan who was Fijian, broad-shouldered with a kind face.
“’Ric that really sucks,” Nolan said sympathetically. Eric had just finished relating his phone call from the previous night and Nolan felt bad for him.
Eric shrugged, attempting to act as if he no longer cared, and said, “Well then Dad just had to get on my case again about getting into fights all the time.”
“You still shouldn’t have called him a…” the rest of Cara’s sentence was drowned out by Nolan’s shocked exclamation at the name Eric had called his father.
“He had it coming,” said Eric casually, but his ears went red giving away that he was a little ashamed of how he had acted.
Nolan shook his head in disbelief. “If I ever called my Ma anything like that I wouldn’t see the outside world for a year.”
Eric laughed. Then he sighed, “So after all that I just had to get out of the house so I went for a walk and ran into the Cobras when they were jumping Harli.”
“Trust you to take a stroll and immediately run into the Cobras,” said Cara with a chuckle, “You’re a trouble magnet.”
“Well I’m glad he is otherwise I would’ve been done for,” I said as she walked over to them. Behind her Brad and Kai followed, looking completely abashed.
“We’ll go get some drinks,” Brad muttered, turning towards the bar.
“Hi Harli,” said Cara.
I sat down next to Cara, opposite the boys. I smiled at Eric and asked, “How are you doing?”
Eric gave a half smile. “Well I thought about calling Kayla this morning, you know see if she’d change her mind,” said Eric, shaking his head, “But I couldn’t, I didn’t want to have to listen to her say it’s over again.”
“It’ll get better,” I assured him.
“Maybe,” shrugged Eric, “You okay?”
Not wanting to admit otherwise, I pointed at Kai as he and Brad reached the table with a tray of thickshakes and sat opposite her. “Well I’m better than he’ll be when Storm gets here,” I said.
Kai signed that he was sorry.
“What did he do?” Asked Cara and Nolan at the same time.
“Skipped out on band practice last night,” I said, “So I had to spend my morning searching for him since he wouldn’t answer his phone.”
“Kai answer his phone?” Brad asked smirking, “What is he supposed to do tap out a response on the thing in morse…OW!”
I’d kicked his shins under the table. Smiling sweetly I said, “I sent him a message, he can type a response.”
While the rest of the table laughed, Nolan asked, “Where’d you find them anyway?”
“In the bushes behind the girl’s change room down at the lagoon,” I said with a weary sigh.
Brad grinned shamelessly and said, “How often do you get an opportunity to watch the cheerleaders get changed?”
“He’s got a good point,” said a pale girl with purple-streaked black hair who sat down next to me.
“Uh hello,” I said in an offended tone, “Girlfriend right here.”
Storm put her arm around my shoulder, “Sorry babe I was just joking.”
“Yeah okay,” I pouted, not making eye-contact with my girlfriend.
Storm leaned against me and said, “You know you’d look really good in a cheer uniform…”
“Uh uh,” I pushed Storm off me and slid along the seat away from her, “I am not dressing as a bubblehead for you.”
“Oh don’t be like that,” Storm said sliding up against me once more.
“Hmph,” I pouted again but this time I was trying hard not to smile. I pushed Storm off me once more and edged away, now practically right up against Cara who was looking a little awkward.
Smiling Storm slid up against me again, she stroked the side of my face and whispered, “Do you want me to dress as a cheerleader?”
I couldn’t hold it any longer, a grin spread across my blushing face.
“I would you know,” teased Storm, pressing closer to me forcing me against Cara who laughed uncomfortably.
I giggled as I tried to push my girlfriend off of me, “Hey quit it. Not in front of the boys.”
“Spoilsport,” said Brad, who had been watching quite happily.
Storm turned her attention to the boys and suddenly remembered she had to talk to Kai. She reached across the table and pulled the boy forward by the collar of his shirt. “Where the heck do you get off not showing up last night?” Storm asked with surprising fierceness, “How is Dark Sky supposed to rehearse without it’s lead guitarist?”
Before Kai could attempt to respond Brad joked, “Guitarist? I thought he was the singer.”
Reacting quickly, I grabbed hold of Storm before she could leap across the table and attack Brad. The one thing in the world my girlfriend was most passionate about (besides embarassing me in public) was her music and she could get quite carried away about it.
“Whoa sorry Storm,” Brad said, pressing himself back against the seat out of her reach.
The other boys laughed as Brad cowered from a girl much smaller than him, beside her I felt Cara shaking as she tried to hold in her own laughter and that was too much, leaning my head on Storm, I started giggling uncontrollably.
Later, after we’d all regained their composure, the conversation turned to the new school year and the upcoming “Leadership Camp” which would kick the year off.
“At least we get one more week of Summer,” Nolan said, “Just chilling on the beach catching rays.”
Brad grinned, “Oh yeah I can see how you need time to work on your tan.”
Nolan gave him a dirty look.
“Something tells me we won’t get as much free-time on camp as you’re hoping,” said Cara.
I nodded my agreement, “Yeah. Doc was telling me about when he went on the camp apparently you have to do all these group cooperation exercises and stuff like that.” When my friends looked at me disappointed I added, “There’s supposed to be some fun stuff too, like snorkeling and kayaking and surfing.”
“That sounds like fun,” said Cara.
“So long as we don’t get grouped with the Cobras,” added Eric.
Brad gave Eric a questioning look and asked, “I thought they got expelled? After what happened with Kayla’s little sis and then the thing with the talent show?”
Eric snorted, this was exactly what he’d been fighting with his father about the night before. “Shaun’s dad convinced the school board to give them another chance,” Eric said, “I guess when you’re the richest guy in town you can get away with anything.”
“What the?” Brad exclaimed, “The school board is letting them back? Are they retarded? I mean Shaun…” Brad’s voice trailed off as he saw the anger growing in Eric’s eyes.
“’Ric?” Asked Nolan in his deep soothing voice.
“Yeah I’m okay,” Eric said, in a tone suggesting he wasn’t completely, “Was just thinking about what Dad was saying last night.” He sighed.
Nolan nodded in understanding, he said, “Yeah my Ma probably would say “They’re just kids, they deserve another chance” as if they haven’t had all the chances in the world.”
“Why don’t our parents ever believe us when we tell them about the Cobras?” Brad added, “It’s like teenagers can’t possibly do anything that bad.”
“Yeah,” agreed Nolan, “It’s always “They’re just kids” but we’re supposed to act like adults.”
“Well there’s one major upside to the camp,” Eric said, “An entire week with no parentals, thank God for that. Too bad it’s not permanent.”
It always made me uncomfortable when my friends talked about their parents but Eric’s words really hurt me. I stood up from the table angrily and shouted, “Yeah it must really suck having parents!”
As the tears formed in my eyes, blurring my vision, Eric tried to stumble out an apology but I was already on my way towards the door with Storm chasing after me. Eric sat shocked with his mouth hanging open wordlessly.
“Eric you idiot!” Cara admonished her brother.
Eric was still shocked by his thoughtless offhand comment, “I know.”
“Baby wait up,” Storm called out to me as she jogged along the beachfront. I slowed down to let her catch up, allowing myself to be pulled into her embrace, my girlfriend didn’t know the right words to say so she simply held me, brushed her fingers through my hair and walked with me in silence.
Which was exactly what I needed at that moment and exactly why I loved Storm.
Later I was leaning against the fence in the empty lot next to my house, Storm laying with her head in my lap, when a deep soothing voice asked.
“Are you okay Harlz?”
I sniffled a little, “Yeah Nol, I’m fine.”
“You sure?” Nolan asked as he sat down next to me, “I mean you get jumped by the Cobras last night and now Eric says that stuff…”
“Okay maybe I’m not totally fine,” I admitted, “But ‘Ric didn’t mean anything wrong, he’s always angry with his dad.”
“That is true,” Nol agreed.
I sighed, “And the Cobras are jerks but they were just messing with me like always.”
“Maybe,” Nol said thoughtfully, “Still, you shouldn’t be out alone so late.”
“It was just to the fish and chip shop,” I argued, “The Cobras never hang out this side of the promenade.”
“I guess that’s changed,” said Nolan.
“Maybe they’re still pissed about New Years,” suggested Storm.
Nolan laughed, “Getting their arses handed to them by a couple of little girls? Who wouldn’t be embarrassed?”
“Hey,” I argued, “They attacked us we were just defen…” I looked at Nol, “…what do you mean little girls?”
“Oh come on,” Nol chuckled, “You girls are tiny, I could lift both of you up easy.”
“Oh yeah?” Storm and I challenged.
As Nol grinned all I could think was, Oh shit!
“No put us down!” Storm screamed as Nolan hoisted us up above his shoulders.
We all laughed as Storm and I struggled to free ourselves from my best friend’s grip, it was insane but it felt good to have a completely pointless laugh.
As the sun was beginning to set, Cara and the boys arrived at the dojo, a small old building on the South end of the beach. Despite the rundown appearance of the shopfronts around it the dojo was well cared for, it had at least seen a fresh coat of paint in the last year and it’s large front window was free of the graffiti that covered it’s neighbors’. In fact the only paint on the window was a large artful logo which read: Flying Tigers Martial Arts.
When Cara and the boys reached the door they weren’t surprised to find Nolan, Storm and myself already there in our gi, going through some basic stretching exercises with Dr Chan.
Eric hesitated as the others entered, he was still feeling terrible about his comment earlier in the day. He hadn’t meant anything by it, like most teens he was just whinging about his parents and hadn’t thought about my situation, as often as he fought with his dad he couldn’t imagine growing up without parents.
“Get in here,” his sister whispered fiercely and pulling him by the arm.
The commotion at the door caught our attention, I looked up from where I sat on the floor doing leg stretches, Eric was walking towards me, he was looking a little ill to be honest. I got to my feet as he reached me.
“Listen Harlz,” Eric said nervously, “I’m really sorry about what I said earlier…I just wasn’t thinking…I’m sorry.”
I smiled at him. “It’s okay,” I said gently, “Really, I mean it.”
“But I…” Eric started to say.
“I can’t expect everyone to walk on eggshells around me,” I insisted, “You guys have problems with your parents, I understand that,” I sighed, “It’s just sometimes when you talk about them like that I can’t help thinking I wish I…” I cut myself off before the tears came again, shaking my head, “Nevermind. It’s okay ‘Ric you didn’t mean to upset me.”
Before the conversation could become anymore awkward, Doc called us to attention. The seven of us lined up according to belt, with black belts (Nolan, Eric and Cara) at the front. The Flying Tigers didn’t usually train on Sundays but since we would be away on camp for the next week Doc arranged a private session just for us.
“Alright everyone,” Dr Chan said standing in front of them, “I was thinking it’s been a while since you’ve had any interesting training, so I thought we’d start with some Tiger’s Tail.”
We let out a collective moan, Tiger’s Tail was a simple exercise where one of us stood with the back to the room and was randomly attacked from behind one of their fellow Flying Tigers.
It was not our favourite excercise.
“Okay that was excellent,” Doc said cheerfully, “Everyone sit I want to talk to you for a bit.”
Exhausted, we Flying Tigers collapsed to the floor in our lines.
“Now I’m sure you’ve all had plenty of people lately giving you advice for the coming school year,” Doc began, pausing to smile at the groans and murmurs from some of us, “And I’m about to become one of those people. However I hope to give you a different perspective,” Doc smiled, “Year twelve is important, it’s your last year and it’s the year that parents and teachers stop asking what you want to be and start asking what are you going to do, what university are you going to apply to. It’s the point where you’re expected to give up on your dreams and work for a future you can barely comprehend.”
“Jeez thanks for the cheery thoughts,” muttered Brad.
Doc ignored him and continued, “It’s just the way it is, you’ll never work hard enough to please your parents or teachers, and I had it the same…”
Brad cut him off, asking, “Weren’t you taking Uni classes at fourteen?”
“Twelve actually,” Doc smiled, “But that does kind of go towards my point, they will always want you to work harder.”
Nolan groaned loudly.
“But you shouldn’t worry about that,” Doc continued, “Just do the best you can and keep aiming towards your dreams. That is all anyone can really ask of you, some of the greatest people in the world never figured out what to do with their lives until they were twice your ages, so don’t let others’ expectations stress you out, just try your best.”
“Don’t forget you need to be at my place by eight tomorrow morning babe,” I reminded my girlfriend as she was leaving with Nolan, who had insisted on walking her home just in case the Cobras were lurking around again.
“But I don’t want to get up that early,” Storm complained.
“Aw poor baby,” I teased, she liked late sleep ins more than I did. Nolan’s body shook as he tried to keep from laughing.
Storm elbowed him in the gut. “I still don’t know why I can’t walk four blocks alone like I do every other day”
I laughed, “Just take the bodyguard and don’t forget, eight o’clock rockstar.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Storm pouted.
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